'Moulin Rouge! The Musical': A dazzling and thrilling assault on the senses

'Moulin Rouge! The Musical': A dazzling and thrilling assault on the senses
'Moulin Rouge! The Musical,' now through May 14 at the Nederlander Theatre.

You knew from the moment you entered the Nederlander Theatre that you were going to be in for a wild, colorful ride. The oversized blue elephant, taking up space in a box overlooking the stage, was mirrored by a rotating windmill in the box opposite. The stage itself was lit by (seemingly) 1000s of red lights that framed the title, “Moulin Rouge.” Sultry showgirls slowly moved across the stage, posing erotically and coyly peeking out at the audience from behind the frame. Handsome men pranced slowly throughout the scenery too. There was plenty of eye candy for every persuasion. And this was all BEFORE the show began!

Baz Luhrman’s revolutionary film come to life, “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” has won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (Aaron Tveit), Best Lighting Design in a Musical (Justin Townsend), Best Choreography (Sonya Tayeh), Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (Danny Burstein), Best Scenic Design in a Musical (Derek McLane), Best Costume Design in a Musical (Catherine Zuber) and on and on and on. And, after seeing this production, I think they should’ve won EVERYTHING. (The movie version was nominated for 129 awards, winning two Academy Awards, three Golden Globes and a BAFTA.)

From beginning to end, you were hooked and transported to 1899, 10 years after the real Moulin Rouge opened on October 6 at the foot of the Montmartre hill in Paris. And just as the original, this musical version was just as captivating.

Call me crazy or memory-deprived, but we went into this thinking we would be enjoying French music–duh. I had forgotten how director Baz Luhrmann had woven hit songs from the last century into his film. For this stage version, there are more than 50 songs covering 160 years, many of them pop hits from the 70s through the 90s. Some numbers had guests dancing in the aisles or swaying in their seats and clapping along. The show opens with one of my favorites, “Lady Marmalade,” Patti LaBelle’s 1974 megahit, and goes on to include snippets from hits by Lady Gaga, Gnarls Barkley, Annie Lennox, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, the Rolling Stones and so many others. I traveled through decades of musical memories as I watched the wildly entertaining show unfold onstage.

The year, as I mentioned is around 1900– The Moulin Rouge nightclub is owned by Harold Zidler–played with charm and skill by the adorable Austin Durant who also starred in the Broadway production. Christian, brilliantly played by a Matthew McConaughey look-a-like, Conor Ryan, stole the show in my opinion. He portrays a young poet and talented writer who has come to Paris to pursue a career and becomes a member of the Bohemian movement (along with remarkable actors/singers/dancers Andre Ward and Gabe Martinez). He falls hopelessly in love with the show’s star Satine (played by Elgin native Courtney Reed). However, Satine has already been promised to the unscrupulous Duke (played superbly by Aussie, David Harris). A love triangle ensues and Christian and Satine fight all odds to stay together….secrets, betrayals, dramatic set design, outstanding vocals, familiar and much loved songs, exciting choreography and beautiful and talented actors and actresses.

What more could one want?!  I’ll tell you. I want to see it again, this time with my dancing shoes on!

(Now through May 14 –not-to-be-missed at the Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph. Tickets: $62.50 –$162.50. Run time:2 hrs., 35 minutes with one intermission. Info: BroadwayinChicago.com)

(First published in Chicago Star Media)

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